The Islamic Foundation has called for self-declared apostate Mohamed Nazim to be stripped of his citizenship and sentenced to death if he does not repent and return to Islam.
Nazim claimed he was “Maldivian and not a Muslim” during a public question-and-answer session with Islamic speaker Dr Zakir Naik, the first time a Maldivian has publicly announced he is not a Muslim.
According to the Maldivian constitution all citizens are required to be Muslim, and the country is always described as a “100 percent” Muslim country.
The 37 year-old angered many in the approximately 11,000-strong crowd with his statement during Dr Naik’s ‘Misconceptions about Islam’ lecture on Friday.
Dr Naik responded that Nazim had read the wrong books and “deviated from Islam”, and requested him “to read correct books on Islam, and Inshallah, you’ll come back to Islam.”
However Nazim did not relinquish the microphone and pressed Naik to clarify the penalty for apostasy.
“In Islam, there are many cases, it doesn’t mean death penalty,” Dr Naik explained. “But if the person who reverts who was a Muslim then converts to and becomes a non-Muslim and propagates his faith and speaks against Islam, and if it’s Islamic rule, then the person should be put to death. But just because a person who is a Muslim becomes a non-Muslim, death penalty is not the ruling.”
Nazim was escorted from the venue by police for his own protection, after members of the audience attempted to attack him.
Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said two men who tried to attack Nazim were arrested after they attacked the police officers protecting him. Nazim himself “was not injured because police protected him,” Shiyam said.
He was taken to a police building where a crowd of protesters had gathered, calling for him to be punished. Shiyam confirmed that Nazim is now being held in an undisclosed location for five days while police investigate “in consultation with the Islamic Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s office.”
Today the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives issued a press statement calling on judges to give Nazim the opportunity to repent “and if he does not, then sentence him to death as Islamic law and Maldivian law agree.”
“The Islamic Foundation believes that the person who announces apostasy should be punished according to Islamic laws,” the NGO said, warning that Nazim represented “a disturbance to the religious views and the religious bonds that exist with Maldivians.”
“Hereby if this man does not do his penance and come back to the Islamic religion, the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives calls to take the citizenship away from this man as mentioned in the Maldivian constitution.”
If case crossed into areas not covered by the laws of the country, “then the judges should rely on Islamic law,” the NGO stated, as per article 142 of constitution which says judiciary shall look into Islamic shar’ia on matters not covered in law, and sentence accordingly.
“So it is requested that the commissioner of police run the legal research on this man and take this to the Prosecutor General’s office. We also request the Prosecutor General to go through this matter and to take this man to the criminal court for trial,” the Islamic Foundation said.
A government official involved in the legal process, who requested that his name and department be kept anonymous, said he was “really worried” and described the case as “a very sensitive subject”.
“Police are investigating the case,” he said. “My understanding is that the court authorities will give [Nazim] opportunities to change his mind. I think he will be given every opportunity to think about his decision.”
Minister for Islamic Affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari told Minivan News that Ministry officials had acted quickly to remove Nazim from the venue “for his own protection”, and had now handed the matter over to the legal system.
“I don’t know if there is a penalty for apostasy according to Maldivian law,” he said.
The Adhaalath Party issued a press statement claiming that the act violated the constitution of the Maldives and called on the government “to strengthen Islam and protect the constitution.”
Religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf declined to comment on the matter during a press conference held today on another matter, however NGO Jamiyyathul Musliheen expressed “concern and regret” over the incident.
”Not a few number of Maldivian youths are moving further from the religion, and many of them are going renegade,” the NGO said in a press statement, adding that “it is a responsibility of the government to strengthen Islam in the country.”
President of the Human Rights Commission to the Maldives (HRCM), Ahmed Saleem, said “what happened was really unfortunate.”
“I think the best thing will be to talk to him and to make him understand the situation and the repercussions, talks which HRCM will welcome,” Saleem said.
He said he was unsure how the Maldivian government would handle the incident.
“I’m afraid of the reaction from the international community should we resort to harsh action,” he said. “I don’t think it would be in our interest – we have just been given a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. This is something we need to think seriously about before we start using harsh language.”
Minivan News contacted several local human rights NGOs however they had not responded at time of press.
A senior government source, who requested anonymity, said he felt the case “will be a real test of how the government will abide by its international commitments.”
Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair was on medical leave and unable to comment.
Minivan News was unable to reach Nazim himself for comment, however a person close to the matter described him as “a very sensible guy who will think of the people around him. But he will not give up on calling for people to be more honest about themselves. I think he will become a genuine refugee if he refuses to take back his words,” she said.
A transcript Dr Naik’s response to Nazim is available here.